ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Volcano Observatory plans to improve its monitoring system this year after the coronavirus pandemic delayed the changes last year.

The observatory hopes to finish required work to convert its volcanic monitoring stations from older analog technology to modernized digital sensors and telemetry, KTUU-TV reported Tuesday.

“We’re in the middle of a very ambitious conversion,” observatory geophysicist John Power said.

The volcano observatory, founded in 1988, is a joint program of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

One of the observatory’s principal goals is to issue warnings when volcanoes are about to erupt. The warnings are meant to be especially useful to local communities, the fishing industry and airlines.

“These ash clouds are very, very hazardous to the operation of aircraft,” Power said.


The system improvements will cover volcanoes from Mount Spurr in south-central Alaska to Kiska Volcano near the end of the Aleutian Islands, Power said.

“This will allow us to do our job in a much more expeditious way and hopefully provide both longer term warnings of eruptions as they’re getting ready to occur, and then more accurate warnings once they do begin,” Power said.

The upgraded stations are expected to provide new information on individual volcanoes, including adding infrasound sensors, which detect low-level sound frequencies, to seismic data, he said.

The sensors will enable scientists to listen for long periods of time to “noises that the volcanoes make when they explode, things that our ears actually can’t hear, but our sensors are able to pick it up,” Power said.

There will also be new webcam views allowing scientists to watch volcanoes as they erupt.

The observatory plans to conduct experiments with gas sensors, while adding thermal monitors at several volcanoes.

“This year, because we’re feeling a little more confident, we’re going to try and get a lot more work done and try and move things forward a little bit faster, in spite of the pandemic,” Power said.